Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

May 23, 2010

How do I say this? Buddhism makes me feel special.

Yup, that’s right. Instead of dissolving my sense of self, it’s heightened it. First, there’s the fact that I feel like I’ve joined a new club. The Sangha. We gather, we meditate, we discuss dharma books. We help newcomers feel at home (important, because we want them to join the club). Second, there are all these special mental activities that “I” should remember to do. And not just when I meditate. Brushing my teeth? Sure … but here’s an opportunity to Be Mindful. Pouting over the jerk in front of me at the grocery checkout? Pout away … until I remember: Be Compassionate.

Me. Me. Me. I‘m a member and I have things to do.

Which is why I’m glad that a thoughtful friend loaned me this book, a compilation of lectures given by Chogyam Trungpa. Now here’s someone who really understands how spiritual practice can enhance one’s ego. Each page is like having lit firecrackers tossed at your feet. There’s nowhere safe to stand.

Some illustrations:

(from Spiritual Materialism) “Whenever we begin to feel any discrepancy conflict between our actions and the teachings, we immediately interpret the situation in such a way that the conflict is smoothed over. The interpreter is ego in the role of spiritual advisor. … It is important to see that the main point of any spiritual practice is to step out of the bureaucracy of ego. This means stepping out of the ego’s constant desire for a higher, more spiritual, more transcendental version of knowledge, religion, virtue, judgment, comfort or whatever it is that the particular ego is seeking. One must step out of spiritual materialism.”

(from Surrendering) “We must surrender our hopes and expectations, as well as our fears, and march directly into disappointment … If we can open, then we suddenly begin to see that our expectations are irrelevant compared with the reality of the situations we are facing. This automatically brings a feeling of disappointment.”

(from The Guru) “The process of receiving teaching depends upon the student giving something in return; some kind of psychological surrender is necessary … it is essential to surrender, to open yourself, to present whatever you are to the guru, rather than trying to present yourself as a worthwhile student. … If you are going to make friends with a spiritual master, you must make friends simply, openly, so that the communication takes place between equals, rather than trying to win the master over to you.”

(from Self-deception) ” … the idea of having an operation and fundamentally changing yourself is completely unrealistic. No one can really change your personality absolutely. … the existing material, that which is already there, must be used. You must accept yourself as you are … Once we have actually opened, ‘flashed,’ in the second moment we realize that we are open and the idea of evaluation suddenly appears. … we try to hold on to the experience and the problems start there, from regarding the real experience of openness has something valuable. … If we regard something as valuable as extraordinary, then it becomes quite separate from us.”

(from The Open Way) “Such intense attempts to prove to ourselves that what we are doing is right indicate a very introverted state of mind; one is very aware of oneself … We feel that we are a minority and that we are doing something very extraordinary, that we are different from everyone else. … We begin to suspect … that we have distorted our experience by evaluating it. … At this point one might begin to punish oneself. … Having discovered self-deception, we suffer from tremendous paranoia and self criticism, which is helpful. It is good to experience the hopelessness of ambition.”


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